Where it all began ...
Cyril 'Gib' Birkinshaw & Annie ' Lou' Webster
on their wedding day
Birkinshaw’s Tea Room, Coffee House & Restaurant has been a long time in the making. In fact it goes back three generations to my Grandfather, after whom the tea rooms are named, Cyril ‘Gib’ Birkinshaw. Born in Grimsby, England in 1904, he went on to marry Annie Webster and, from that union, my mother was born.
Grandad spent a lot of his time ‘in service’ as butler with my Nana as cook. They worked for the Mars family (Mars bars and other chocolate bars), the owners of Time Life magazine, and various members of the English aristocracy.
Before the war Grandad had acquired a hotel in London, staffed by his brothers and sisters and other relatives, it was becoming quite the place. In 1939 when war broke out, he went to the local pub and offered the hotel for sale to the highest bidder. He got just 150 pounds and moved back to Grimsby with Nana and my 4 year old mother to a small terraced house on New Bridge Terrace. The house was bombed within weeks and completely destroyed. In a country ravaged by WWll, my Grandfather became an ambulance driver and ‘kept the home fires burning”. After the war he resumed life in service.
I grew up hearing from him (far too infrequently) and my mother (more often) about his life and the way he lived, the standards that were expected of him, and that he expected from his employers. He refused one well paid position when the employer referred to him as Cyril! He politely terminated the interview by saying he couldn’t work for anyone who did not understand the social order, and that, as a servant, he should always be referred to as Birkinshaw, not Cyril!
And throughout the stories was the food. Rationed food made creatively, food made from American servicemen's bounty, high teas, afternoon teas, great parties, life above and below stairs. I was hooked. I lived the Downton Abbey life vicariously through my grandparents. I loved the food, I loved the music, I loved the ceremony surrounding everyday activities. I learned to bake as my grandfather did, I learned about butling (and was even offered a job as a trainee butler with the Duke of Devonshire). I learned about service, learned to love things 'done properly'. And 40+ years after my Grandfather's passing, those lessons, inspirations and love have manifested themselves in Birkinshaw's. It has been a long time coming, and I hope you will visit and feel the wait has been worth it.